One of the first chains we are to throw off in our quest to live free is the chain of the Law. Many of the earliest believers in Jesus were of Jewish background and they needed clear direction regarding their new relationship with the Old Testament Law. The apostle Paul explains on several occasions that the short answer to the question of the Law is that we have literally died to it. It is no longer in effect. It is no longer influential or applicable to those who have embraced the gospel.
At the beginning of Romans chapter 7, Paul illustrates our death to the Law by comparing it to the death of a spouse. “Just as a woman is free to be joined to another man after the death of her husband…you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh (i.e. prior to our conversion and still under the Law), the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:3-6).
Our break with the Law is as severe and final as death itself. The Law died as a part of our life and we were married to a new groom, Christ Himself. And the consummation of our new marriage is the Spirit of Christ coming to live inside us. Rather than the “oldness of the Law”, we move, serve, and love in the “newness of the Spirit”.
Paul expounds further on this topic in his letter to the church at Galatia. The book of Galatians is essentially a treatise on our death to the Law and our new freedom in Christ. Here are just a few highlights of the book:
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the Law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:23-26).
You became a son of God by faith in Christ, not by keeping the Law. The Law was preparatory in nature and having finished its job of pointing us to Christ, it is no longer needed. Or to quote from the passage, “We are no longer under a tutor [the Law].”
Another highlight: “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:1-5).
The Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law. Paul’s argument for freedom from the Law throughout Galatians is that just as you were saved by faith apart from keeping the Law, so the Christian life is lived by faith, not by works of the Law.
Here is another: “But it was because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).
The Judaizers, the false brethren, taught that despite being saved by Christ’s death, the Christian life requires adherence to the Law. This confusion is understandable given the transition from Law to grace that is only now, in New Testament times, being explained and taught by the apostles. But even in this transition period, requiring new believers to follow the Law is such a grievous and oppressive error that Paul says, in our vernacular, “We did not even give them the time of day!”
And finally: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). It is an interesting comparison between the “yoke of slavery” and the “yoke of Christ”. Jesus called His yoke “easy and light” (Mt 11:30) and invites us to join Him in it. We are to embrace the yoke of Christ and reject the yoke of slavery.
The yoke of slavery is the burden of living under the Law. The burden of trying to keep the Law. The yoke of Christ is light because with Him living His life through us, He is doing the heavy lifting. Christ is in the yoke with us providing the power to move ahead. As for the yoke of slavery to the Law, Paul says to no longer be subject to it (Gal 5:1). In other words, “Throw off your chains! And start by throwing off the chain of the Law!”
Now, given that most of you reading this post are not from a Jewish background and the Law is now 2000 years in the rear view mirror, is the chain of the Law really a problem in today’s church? I believe it is. But it has taken on a more subtle form than the Law vs grace situation of Paul’s day. What we are facing today is a New Testament form of the law. And it can be just as dangerous and oppressive as its Old Testament counterpart. We will talk about it next time.